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Founding Brothers Review

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In the book Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis, the author relates the stories of six crucial historic events that manage to capture the flavor and fervor of the revolutionary generation and its great leaders. While each chapter or story can be read separately and completely understood, they do relate to a broader common theme. One of Ellis' main purposes in writing the book was to illustrate the early stages and tribulations of the American government and its system through his use of well blended stories. The idea that a republican government of this nature was completely unprecedented is emphasized through out the book. Ellis discusses the unique problems that the revolutionary generation experienced as a result of governing under the new concept of a democracy. These problems included- the interpretation of constitutional powers, the regulation of governmental power through checks and balances, the first presidential elections, the surprising emergence of political parties, states rights vs. federal authority, and the issue of slavery in a otherwise free society. Ellis dives even deeper into the subject by exposing the readers to true insight of the major players of the founding generation. The book attempts to capture the ideals of the early revolutionary generation leaders and their conflicting political viewpoints. The personalities of Hamilton, Burr, Adams, Washington, Madison, and Jefferson are presented in great detail. Ellis exposes the reality of the internal and partisan conflict endured by each of these figures in relation to each other. Ellis emphasizes that despite these difficult hurdles, the young American nation survived its early stages because of its great collection of charismatic leaders and their ability to settle their disputes through compromise.

Founding Brothers is divided into six different chapters, each with a distinctly different stories. The chapters are titled "The Generation", "The Duel", "The Dinner", "The Silence", "The Farewell", "The Collaborators" and "The Friendship". In "The Duel", the story of the legendary duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is related in its entirety. It was by far the most prominent deadly standoff between two men in history. Ellis relates the background and brief biographies of the two men involved in the duel. He also reveals the context for the duel, a culmination of political and personal jabs at Burrs character by Hamilton. In fact these jabs held a good deal of truth, and finally resulted in Burr challenging Hamilton. Both Hamilton and Burr went to the plains in Weehawken to conduct the duel in defense of their honor and characters. Historically, Hamilton is seen as a martyr in the duel and Burr seen as a treacherous murderer. This Hamiltonian viewpoint is dominant among historians because it is widely believed that Hamilton went into the duel not intending to fire a shot and that Burr fired the first shot. Ellis believes this version of the story to be wrong. He believes that Hamilton honored his bargain of not firing on Burr, wasting his first shot by firing it into the trees. Burr, thinking that Hamilton fired at him, shot and killed Hamilton with his shot.

The second chapter, "The Dinner", relates a secret compromise between Hamilton and Madison in the venue of a dinner party hosted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton arrived at the dinner with radically different agendas. Hamilton, heavily influenced by the fact that the Articles of Confederation failed, was a staunch advocate of a strong central government. Hamilton's goal was to negotiate with Madison who was blocking the passing of his fiscal program. Hamilton was convinced that his economic plan would fix the economy and restore public credit. Hamilton was baffled by Madison's position on the fiscal plan, since Madison was once a staunch advocate of similar ideas. Madison was opposed to Hamilton's plan because he thought it disenfranchised veterans by repaying spectators instead. His more hidden motive was that Madison's native state of Virginia had already paid their state's war debt. Madison's opposition to the plan preempted a switch in alliances by Madison to the Jeffersonian camp. The negotiations eventually ended up in a compromise which Madison would not speak out against Hamilton's fiscal plan and in turn the capital would be moved to a spot near Madison's native Virginia on the Potomac. Ellis states that the secret compromise ranks as one of the most defining in American history.

Chapter three, "The Silence", deals with the issue of a possible end to the slave trade brought up by two Quaker delegations and the prominent statesman Benjamin Franklin. Franklin claimed that the values of slavery were contradictory to the values that had been fought for in the American Revolution. Franklin wanted gradual emancipation; it was a final piece of advice by Franklin before he went to the grave. Under the Constitution, the Federal Government was not allowed to tamper with the slave trade until 1808. Ultimately, it was decided that the slavery issue was taboo on the Congressional floor partially because Madison wanted to take it off the agenda.

Chapter four, "The Farewell", deals with Washington's retirement and his final address. In Washington's final address, he spoke of his distrust of partisan politics and disapproval of political



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